Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance
by Ruth Emmie Lang
St. Martin’s Press, 2017; 347 pp
Reviewed by Sarah J. Schlosser
Part pastoral tale, part self-reviled magic, part love letter to modern isolation, Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance is a rich and many times funny novel about a young man raised by wolves who leaves them behind to venture into the world of humanity on occasion. As Weylyn Grey grows from a boy to a man the reader is introduced to his many talents through the voices of acquaintances, friends, and adoptive family members; Weylyn is perceived to magical powers that allow him to “control” nature, but as the story unfolds his “powers” are found to be uncontrollable, and he often inadvertently hurts those who he loves most.
As a result of his capacity for harm, Weylyn often withdraws into self-imposed isolation, coming and going in humanity just enough to stave off loneliness and keep those around him as safe as he can. This sort of lifestyle starts him off blissfully ignorant of all things human, until he is introduced to reading by his butcher’s daughter Mary as a boy (with the book To Kill a Mockingbird) and then adopted by a minister when his wolf family is exterminated (the minister sends him to a sort of boys’ finishing school), and then catches back up with Mary when his foster mother dies while he is in college (where he helps Mary with her biology experiments as he works a side gig as a hurricane tamer). Weylyn isn’t halcyon perfect or a noble savage; as he gets more of humanity under his belt, he gains a greater capacity for reactive emotion, which poses challenges with him controlling his temper or anxiety so that he doesn’t create blizzards, new forests, or conspicuous beehive honey production. He somehow keeps his wonder, however, and is the most frustrated when those around him try to impose snark or jaded judgment; at one point he asks Mary, “Why do you . . . (t)ake something beautiful and vandalize it with skepticism?” She is instantly contrite in spite of being defensive, and this contrition of many of the people that Weylyn meets over the course of his life, until he himself reaches that bitter place of humanity as well:
“Wow. Who made you so bitter?”
Weylyn looked up at me hesitantly, unsure of whether to continue. “After my parents died, when I lived with my wolf family, I played this game where I’d pretend to have a problem and someone would fix it for me like. . . . You know, just simple stuff. I never fantasized that they wanted to adopt me and take me back to their horse ranch with a swimming pool and trampoline or anything crazy like that. I was just so tired of having to figure everything out for myself that I wanted someone to help me, even if it was with some stupid, insignificant problem I was having.
“Then I met this . . . girl. She would sit with me and we’d talk, and she taught me how to read. I loved my wolf family, but she reminded me of how good it felt to connect with another human being.”
. . . I took his hands inside mine and squeezed. “You have all this good inside you, but you give it all away. You don’t keep any for yourself. Why is that?”
. . . He squeezed my hands back. “Because it’s not safe with me. Nothing is.”
It was at this particular point in the novel that a kind of allegory (whether intended by the author or not) hit me in relation to modern and/or social media concepts. When most people give a reason for creating social media accounts, they state they did it to connect with other people with similar interests, to feel less alone. Lang deftly presents this gift in a time of evidence of climate change and mass isolation via technology, and the result generates the same or more wonder than if this book hadn’t been a novel and instead an account of true events; Lang, with Weylyn’s help, gives us the gift of the wonder that can be found in each other.